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NRCS and Fort Jackson Team Up to Combat Soil Erosion

Results include improved water quality and enhanced training areas 

By Amy O. Maxwell, USDA-NRCS 
Public Affairs Specialist

TheUSDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Columbia, SC, works side-by-side with troops at Fort Jackson. While NRCS conservationists aren’t carrying ammunition or perfecting theiraim on the rifle range, they are making it easier for troops to navigate thesandy terrain. Many soldiers deployed to Iraq have received training atFort Jackson, on this very same soil. The Army began partnering with NRCS (then the SoilConservation Service) prior to World War II.

For over tenyears, NRCS has worked with Fort Jackson to alleviate serious soil erosion problems. The current erosion control programat Fort Jackson began in 1991 with the initiation of an erosion control inventory, conducted byNRCS. This resource inventory identified over 80 sites with significant erosionand/or water quality problems. To date, more than 60 additional sites have beenidentified.

NRCS hascompleted 22 erosion control contracts for work to improve its training lands.101 sites have been rehabilitated, 250 acres seeded to permanent vegetation, 10miles of vegetated waterways installed, and a total of 6,00 tons of rip rap, and100,000 square yards of erosion control blankets were employed to accomplishthese efforts. Fort Jackson officials said working with the NRCS has been the key to the erosion-controlprogram's success. NRCS provides a turnkey operation: from high qualitytechnical assistance in design and construction to contract administration andpayment certification.

Because of Fort Jackson’s location in the Sandhills of South Carolina, sandy soils mean highlyerosive conditions. The types of sites that were restored included rifle ranges,unpaved roads, borrow pits, bare areas, and military training sites. Coupledwith heavy foot and vehicle traffic, the poor soil conditions meant that someareas were quickly degrading and in many spots became dangerous for troops tocross, especially while carrying dangerous and explosive ammunition. Using avariety of geotextile materials and innovative designs, Fort Jackson and NRCS have come up with an excellent plan for slowing soil erosion,particularly at the heavily used Omaha Beach FiringRange

           NRCS Civil Engineering Technician Ricky Walker is stationed at Fort Jackson and has been a major player in the erosion control process. “In order torepair and enhance the training grounds at Omaha Beach, we used a variety of materials such as geotextile cloth, interlocking concreteblocks, mulch and vegetation to stabilize the highly erodible soils,” heexplained.

NRCS UrbanConservationist Jim Wilson oversees project implementation at Fort Jackson and stated that the staff at the fort is extremely dedicated to conservationand doing things right the first time. “The environmental team at the fort arecommitted to protecting the natural resources, and have dedicated funding andstaff time to ensure the work is permanent and not just a quick fix,” saidWilson. Currently, NRCS and Fort Jackson have established five contracts involving conservation work ranging from soilerosion, forestry, and wildlife conservation.

The work involvedstabilizing roads with gravel, channel stabilization using erosion controlblankets and planting vegetation such as Bermuda, Bahia, and Brown Top Millet. In addition, an excess of pine trees was causing pinestraw to block drainage culverts therefore causing sediment to invade trainingfields. Cutting down some of the trees alleviated this problem. In addition,channel stabilization involved lining the bottom of the channel with geotextilecloth, then placing an interlocking cable concrete mat on top to providestability and protection. This allows troops to cross the channels much quickerand safer than previously. Walker added, “This technique was a much better option than using traditionalrip-rap, which is not aesthetic, or safe to maneuver across.” Furthermore, thework is permanent, and should require little if any maintenance.

The erosioncontrol project at Omaha Beach began in April, and the vegetation that was planted then has benefited greatlyfrom plentiful rains this spring and summer. This high traffic area is nowprotected from excessive erosion that was damaging it. “Looking at the bigpicture, not only is this firing range protected, rather, the entire surroundingwatershed is safeguarded from nonpoint source pollution,” explained Wilson. “The project has a wide reaching effect in protecting nearby water sourceswhich were previously affected by soil erosion from this area.”

NRCS alsorecommended a rotating land usage process in an effort to allow re-growth ofvegetation. “Shooting lanes were seeing excessive use and had no time torepair or re-grow, so rotating the use of the lanes should improve them,”explained Walker. Troops were getting sand in their weapons because of the excessive erosion,and this was a definite safety hazard. The lanes were seeded and mulched, aswell as fertilized and limed. “It’s important to rotate usage to allow for re-growth, much like a farmer will do for pasture management,” he said.

In another improvement at Omaha Beach, a berm containing no vegetation was reshaped and planted. “We put topsoil onit, seeded it, and stopped the erosion from the unprotected area from runningoff into the adjacent firing lanes,” said Walker. An added benefit is that wildlife species such as turkey and quail can feedoff the grass.

The strong partnership between NRCS and Fort Jackson resulted in many improvements at the army installation, and soil and waterresources for miles will be permanently protected. The conservation workimplemented not only improved soil and water health in the impacted area, butalso in the surrounding watershed. Conservationists are not planning to stophere. “This is just the beginning of the improvements we can make at theinstallation, and we plan to continue our conservation efforts for a long timeto come,” concluded Walker. 

For more information, contact Jim Wilson at (803) 576-2084.